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let's salute the schools with excellent workshops

updated mon 20 aug 01


Chris Campbell on sun 19 aug 01

Vince and all -

A lot of us try to attend a workshop once a year. Most of us have run
the gammut of excellent to rotten. Famous names do not guarantee a great
workshop. Nor does a famous school. Sometimes the little schools provide
excellent service.

Do you potters who do this for a living have any good solid tips on
how to choose? What should send up a red flag? Are there schools out there
who are known for not tolerating a bad workshop?

Maybe instead of a negative list we should just take the time to
salute the schools that provided us with excellent workshops.

I recommend Arrowmount (TN) and The John Campbell Folk School
(NC). The directors 'dropped in' on the class often to see how things were
going. I think this was a good subtle way of letting everyone know that
someone cared. I have always had great workshops at these two schools.

Chris Campbell - in North Carolina

Dave Finkelnburg on sun 19 aug 01

Great suggestion to talk about good workshops, Chris!
I haven't taken a lot of multi-day workshops, but the best I have
attended was a handbuilding workshop by Vince Pitelka last summer. Vince
had a clear lesson plan, more resources and lessons than time, plus the
flexibility and willingness to deal with students' interests.
Dave Finkelnburg

Marvin Klotz on sun 19 aug 01

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> A lot of us try to attend a workshop once a year. Most of us have run
>the gammut of excellent to rotten. Famous names do not guarantee a great
>workshop. Nor does a famous school. Sometimes the little schools provide
>excellent service.

The worst and most expensive workshop I've attended was indeed led by a
famous name - a waste of both my money and time.

However, not all workshops are given by schools. Two quite different, and
excellent, workshops that I've participated in during the last year or so
were not. One was a workshop organized by Eric Mindling down in Oaxaca,
Mexico, a hands on affair in San Marcos Tlapazola. Everything from digging
clay out of a local cornfield to firing the finished product in a
tumble-stacked bonfire. All of this under the tutelage of two charming
Zapotec Indian ladies, Alberta Mateo Cruz and Macrina (whose last name I've
forgotten). It was like stepping back in time, a great learning experience
on many levels. The second one was one I've told you Clayarters about
already - a slip decorating workshop by Vince on Michael McDowell's farm up
in Washington State. As others have said Vince's workshops are well
organized and full of information. I have no tricks for telling a good one
from a bad one ahead of time - maybe this discussion will help.
Joan Klotz

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Paul Lewing on sun 19 aug 01

Initially, I really wished the person who'd posted this thread first had
named names, but the longer I think about it, the more I agree with Vince.
Mostly because the instructor and the school are probably not here to
defend themselves. And especially if no one mentioned their dissatisfaction
to the administration, it's not fair to trash them. And I realized the real
reason I wanted them to name names was my own gossippy curiosity.

In line with that, I'd offer a bit of advice to prospective workshop
students. Ask if the school is providing an assistant for the workshop, or
if a faculty member in that department will be attending at least most of
the session. If the answer is yes, you can be pretty sure the school is
committed to making sure the students are getting what they need. This also
gives you someone who knows what's going on to voice your concerns to
without having to confront the teacher.

So I'll name some names. Places I've been in the last few years to teach
that had full-time assistants to assist at workshops: The Archie Bray
Foundation, Nottingham Center for the Arts, Appalachian Center for Crafts.
These are the "gold standard". Places where they've assigned a
knowledgeable student to assist, with frequent presence off the
administrators: Arvada Center for the Arts, The Clay Studio, Pottery
Northwest, Seward Park Art Studio. Places where the faculty member has been
present for the whole workshop: U of Idaho, Moscow; Yakima Valley College,
U of N. Dakota, Grand Forks (which is the best-equipped, best-funded,
best-staffed UNUSED clay studio I've ever seen).

I have also taught at some places, which I will not name, where I was handed
a key and told to lock up at the end of the day. Luckily in every situation
where that's happened to me, there was a student or two who knew where
things were and how things worked. There have been places where I never saw
the school staff unless I made a trip to the office. I hope I did a good
job at those places, but it's never as instructive as it can be when the
teacher doesn't have to "make do" with things that an assistant or a good
office staff can make easy.

Paul Lewing, Seattle,
who'd still really like to know who and where we're talking about, but only
because he's a gossip.